Fine Art in the Land of Valet Service

Koons’ Dog

Here I am, again. It is wintertime. Ground Hog Day has passed and I am living on Bentley Avenue in West Los Angeles. I am writing to you from the “City of the Angels,” Los Angeles, my winter home. This city is the lollipop of success filled with the promise of glamour and glitz.

Here, in this land of hype, the trees, the air, people quiver with expectancy because at any given moment, at any given hour, hundreds are waiting, 24/7, to hear from an agent.

Los Angeles is the mythical land where the highways and interstates are lined with Bentleys, Ferraris, and an assortment of shiny four-wheeled baubles that cost more than most people make in a lifetime. Stretch limousines slide silently through the traffic with darkened windows. I am pretty much convinced that there is an unwritten code that stipulates to be on the success track, the wife must drive a large black SUV or, in special circumstances, drive a BMW in a car pool. This is the “Land of Me” and the birthplace of road rage and illusion.

Also, Los Angeles is the land of valets. If you like to open doors for folks…Los Angeles needs you. There is a valet job waiting for you. A valet lives large in this land of sunshine. My favorite grocery store in Century City has valet services every day. Well-coiffed LA matrons arrives driving Jaguars, late model Cadillac’s and land yacht Lincolns pull into the valet section to hand over their cars to courteous men in red jackets who work for tips.

As to tips, valets need to perfect a style for either good or evil. The choice is to either endear yourselves to the car owner or assume an air of being so aloof that the car owner would fear not giving you a large enough tip.

In Los Angeles, houses are paper-clipped on the sides of hills and in the last couple of years, following a heavy rain, one or two houses splits in half and begins to slide down the cliff taking the house below it with them as they crash to the bottom. Currently, there is a mansion in Encino whose foundation split into two pieces and is ever so slowly sliding off the mountain. This event holds everyone’s attention for at least a week. In the fall, the public’s attention is on the wildfires that occur and devour nature and mansions. Also, I would like to point out that the Los Angeles River is paved. I have actually seen a couple of scenic paintings of fish and rocks on the pavement, an addition painted by Los Angeles artists.

Los Angeles receives so much sunshine that the air is stoked with energy. It seems to vibrate with expectancy and it must be water droplets from the ocean that makes the city seem to sparkle. Somewhere in this town, someone is always signing a contract, writing a television show, waiting to hear from an agent.

The metropolis of Los Angeles is alive with dreams and littered with dashed hopes. There is always an air of expectancy in Los Angeles. This feeling of expectancy is as real as the sea breezes that blow into West Los Angeles from Santa Monica. There is always an air of expectancy hanging about Los Angeles. Here, in this land of hype, the trees, the air, people quiver with expectancy because at any given moment, at any given hour, hundreds are waiting, 24/7, to hear from an agent.

Los Angeles has too much sunshine; it stokes the citizens with energy overload and this overload drives them to believe their dreams. The air is cluttered with dreams. It is almost as if you should be able to pluck a dream from the air.

Los Angeles is an industry town and a microcosm of the emerging global community. The Beverly Hills official voting ballot is printed in 46 languages including the Persian Language of Farsi. Russian is spoken as often as English on parts of Sunset Strip and Beverly Hills. With 56 diverse languages, the citizens of Los Angeles create the tapestry of a global city.

One of my most treasured L.A. friends left Russia when the U.S.S.R was encouraging Jewish families to leave the country. My friend, Sophia, left Russia with her husband, her sister, and their four children. They went first to Greece, then to Israel, Rhode Island, and finally, arrived in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

We have to focus when we talk because Sophia lives in a community that speaks mostly Russian. Sophia is Jewish, grew up in Russia during the Cold War, and gave birth to her two children in an austere Soviet Hospital. Her husband was not allowed to visit the hospital. The fathers were only allowed to pick up their new child and mother when it was all over. I’ll never forget how mean, Sophia told me, the Soviet Nurses were to women in childbirth. Yet, it is the fact that we are both mothers and grandmothers that binds us together. A mother’s love transcends language and culture.

In Los Angeles you pass movie stars on the street. We were waiting in our veterinarian’s reception area recently when Betty White came in and bought 100 pounds of dry dog food. One Sunday night while waiting for Japanese take-out in Brentwood, Jimmy Smits and his wife stopped and picked up their order. Jimmy took time to pet my dogs.

Los Angeles is a beautiful city with Spanish style mansions, extravagant Persian Homes, and home of polished steel and beams that resembles modern art.

I return in January. My love lives there and has a business there. Flowers are in bloom year round. In many ways, Los Angeles reminds me of Greece. The sun is almost as bright as it is in the Mediterranean. Thick flower vines tumble across walls, and hang from roof tops in shades of purple, red, and white blooms. Beverly Hills is so clean. I suspect they shoot anyone who litters. Yet, each winter when I return I have a problem adjusting to the culture.

I lived most of my life in Shuffletown and it was only nine miles from the City of Charlotte, NC. Charlotte was plenty large enough for me. Until recently it was a city of approximately 200,000, now it is booming into a large metropolitan city. I have never desired to live in a large metropolitan city when I was young. So it seems odd that in my 60s I spend part of my life in Los Angeles, a city/county of 10 million.

I prefer country. Winding roads that run pass corn fields, pastures, and woods. When I am not in Los Angeles, I am in Shuffletown.

This is my fifth winter in Los Angeles. I came to Los Angeles because I fell in love with Lee Ryan, my third cousin. I met him in 1990 at my first cousin’s funeral. We took our time falling in love. I was 62 when I began spending winters with Lee in this warmer climate. It is working out very well and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage single people to attend family reunions and of course, funerals.

In January 2003, I followed Lee 3,000 thousand miles from Shuffletown. That’s how the west got settled, you know…women following men “westward ho” and all that stuff. In spite of Indians, disease, starvation, and miles and miles of desert, women kept following men west until, finally, someone built a grocery store with valet parking. I cannot verify whether the movies arrived in Los Angeles before or after valet service was provided. It is the old chicken or the egg thing.

I never gave thought to moving west. I often told people how grateful I was that my great-great grandmother had refused to cross the Catawba River insisting instead on homesteading on the banks of the river.

Mistakenly, I thought love had passed me by when the millennium passed. I had made peace with it. After all, I had been married three times and enough is enough. My children and grandchildren were grown. My life was set in stone.

But, in the speed of lightning and the pace of a snail, we fell in love and like the women of yore I followed a man west to the Pacific Ocean.

This is my fifth winter in Los Angeles. It is a good time to speak of this time to speak of my double-edged life of mine. Sometimes, I compare bi-coastal living with a chronic disease. But being in love is a wonderful blessing at any age. My life turned into a Cinderella story while I had my money on “bag lady.”

It has not been easy adjusting to life in Los Angeles. My first winter, I was terrified of the traffic and refused to drive. Well. I did try to drive once, but I backed the car into the garage wall and dented the fender. I simply pulled the car back into the garage, removed the keys and returned upstairs to the condo.

The next winter, I drove, but I would only make right hand turns. Turning left in Los Angeles can be compared to the feeling you get on a roller coaster when it drops several feet. This is because you turn left in most places without a left turn light and you turn in front of an onslaught of on-coming traffic approaching quickly. There are very few left hand turn signals on traffic lights in Los Angeles. I know where every one is located in the vicinity of West Los Angeles, Brentwood and Beverly Hills.

Los Angeles citizens live their life in a thirty minute radius from their house. Their grocery stores, doctors, dentists, shopping, and favorite restaurants are all located within a 30 minute drive. Their objective is to live in such a way that they do not have to take the interstate to dinner. A five mile trip on the Interstates can take anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours.

My winters in Los Angeles can almost be perfectly sorted by themes. Each year, I have tried different ways to fit in this massive city and to go in search of friends.

I call winter of 2003, Lost in Paradise as it was my first year in Los Angeles and Lee was eager to show me his favorite places. It was also the year, I felt lost in a strange city.

In 2004, I enrolled as a student at the Kabbalah Center on Robertson St. It was my “Kabbalah winter.” I was so impressed with the teachings that I offered to volunteer. I was told to come by at 9:00 a.m. and I would be put to work. Most of the staff at the Center are from Israel and English is their second language. My adviser’s name was also Judith, but that is not how it sounded. With their accents and my southern accent, we did not understand each other. But smiles cross all language barriers. “Yudith” and I liked each other on sight and we had such a good time smiling at each other that whatever she was recommending for me to do surely was a good idea. Thus, I was assigned a telephone and given a calling list. My objective was to call each person on the list to ask if they would be attending a function in Chicago to celebrate Passover. The list of names they gave me to call was made up with surnames that reflected foreign homelands. And, on sight, they all appeared unpronounceable. How would you pronounce a surname such as Gorzynskiz or Kornaszewski? But I was there, this was my assignment, and I wanted to meet new people.

It was a very loud room and probably no one could hear me, anyhow. Following the first three telephone calls, I realized that the room was quickly becoming less quiet. My adviser had stepped away. I dialed again bravely and asked to speak to Mr. or Mrs. Radziszewski? In four telephone calls, I had succeeded in stumbling through each name in a way that stunned the one who answered the call. I knew the names did not sound right when mispronounced with a southern accent, but some of the people I called sounded like they had been called by mistake by someone calling from another country.

People began to huddle. I kept going. I have four definite reservations for the event. I was very friendly after slaughtering the pronouncement of their last name; they became so intrigued that we often had a conversation that began when they asked, “Are you a new staff member?”

We would talk about the South and they would recall their birth place. Then we would discuss my accent.

The manager walked into the room just as I was laughing at a joke told on the other side of the phone. He joined a group. All ears were turned towards me. I seemed to amuse them and they certainly did not know what to do with me. I could tell they thought I was harmless, odd, kindly, and they kept returning my smiles.

It was 9:45 and the staff manager walked over and asked me if I would mind editing some recent English translations of a visiting Rabbi’s writings. And I could take it home to work on it in my computer.

I learned a lot about the kindness of strangers during my Kabbalah Winter and the importance of the Golden Rule.
There was the winter that I needed a hair cut and I ended up with my hair cut as short as a new army recruit. It is still growing out from that incident. The problem was that the beautician had been doing speed.

Then there was the winter I became involved with dog rescue in Los Angeles and my experience was as heartbreaking as any Ellen Degeneres withstood.

1980s Block Party

This winter, one of my most noteworthy experiences has been the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a brand new 10,000 ft. addition to Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It is named for Eli Broad, An American billionaire who resides in Los Angeles and has been anointed as the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM). Eli Broad is well known for his philanthropy and his extensive contemporary art collection. Broad and his wife, Edythe, are very involved in raising Los Angeles cultural profile. Ummmm…

As the unveiling of LACMA BCAM approached the event was heralded on television and in newsprint. The New York Times had a spread on it the last weekend in January. Lee is an avid fan and a collector of contemporary art. We eagerly anticipated attending the grand opening of this shiny new wing. I even broke out the red high-heels for the occasion. But it was a cold night in Los Angeles. The temperature dropped to 50 degrees and the guests shivered.

We were delighted to find that there is a new parking garage for the BCAM. It was well lit, painted white, and there were guides to point to elevators. The first upset was the elevator. As we stood there with a gathering crowd, we noted that the elevator was moving so slowly downward, it seemed to be defying gravity. Many chose to walk with us to the stairs rather than wait for the elevator.

BCAM is a beautiful piece of art in itself, but it probably will be fortified with more construction long before the New York Museum of Art needs a new roof. The building is a work of art that reminded me of things my brother built when he played with Tinker Toys. The cost of this new museum extension was $56-million. The structure is trimmed in red steel and matched my shoes.

Mr. Broad has loaned from his vast art collection 176 pieces by contemporary artists for the inaugural exhibit at BCAM. Let me summarize what the art critics and mass media had to say about Mr. Broad’s art collection. They thought it was such a wonderful collection of contemporary art that it was a good decision on Mr. Broad’s part not to place it all under the care of LACMA BCAM, but to share it with museums throughout the globe. Some art critics and concerned chamber members would have preferred keeping the collection in Los Angeles…like a prize.

Our expectations were high as we rode the red trimmed escalator. Lee has taught me a few things about contemporary art. He has spent Sunday afternoons hammering at me about what makes art. But I have not wavered. Art is supposed to express beauty or to challenge the viewer to see another way. When it comes to art, I have paintings of landscapes, snow leopards, zebras, prints of ill-fitted ladies, a Greek port and a canal in Venice. Canals. No one has ever walked into my house pointed at a painting and said, “What is that?” A question I asked many times at the BCAM Patron’s Gala.

Now, I am not without a bit of creativity myself. My home is an eclectic collection of bright colors and odd furniture. My coffee table is made from a door of our family’s red barn whose roof had once been painted with huge yellow and green flowers that were five feet wide. Along the side of the barn we hung a painting by niece Robbin of a ten foot tall Pink Flamingo. I am no stranger to art.

Let’s return to the structure known as BCAM. 202 vintage street lamps stood in tight formation outside the new Renzo-Plano-designed museum. I wondered what happened to the sheet Robbin had painted the flamingo onto.
The escalator moved with the swiftness of senior citizens walking to dinner, but along the way, you could catch a glance at a nighttime Los Angeles. Lights blink from hilltops and streets. It is a beautiful sight. The Pacific Coast Highway is among the most scenic highways in America and it begins at Malibu. It is man and nature complimenting each other artfully. Always, always, when the sky is dark there are spotlights searching the sky over Los Angeles. Above it all floats the marine layer lifts up from the coast along Santa Monica and Malibu and stretch like lace across the land.

The bright red escalator came to a sound stop slowly and we stepped on the top floor of the three floor building. Each level contains a 10,000-foot square gallery and the ceilings are 17 – 19 feet high.

On this level we were greeted by wall sized canvases of famous people. They were photos your have seen, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Campbell’s Tomato Can and a life-sized sculpture of Michael Jackson painted as an angelic mother holding his pig.
It was not Michael, nor the bigger than life sculpture, “A String of Puppies,” all blue or some color never seen in a natural setting. A life size family of four, Mother, Father, sister and brother were showing off their puppies. When night fell and no one is there…they are still showing off their puppies.

It was a big gallery and for a moment, I thought I had gone down the Rabbit’s Hole. On one side, I had seen negatives blown up to the size of California King. I wondered where they would have stored this piece of art if it had not been sold to someone as art or had not been accepted by a museum when you donated it.

Lee has begun to mutter. “This is a 1980s block party,” he said. The exhibit reminded me of a white elephant party Cousin Phyllis gave for me to celebrate my third marriage. All of our wacky friends were invited and they were told to gift me with something they had, sometime nice, something you would gleefully give up to a serial bride. I received two Christmas wreaths and five Easter hats, not to mention framed pictures, and broken items.

Birthday Balloon Dog

When I rounded the corner of the gallery, behold, before me was an animal made of balloons by a very large clown. It was the ever most popular birthday party request and good entertainment: the Balloon Dog.

The between floor elevators were a delight. I believe this elevator was hesitant to hold the number of people it had space for…so gates were installed to hold onto; and to set aside about four x four feet of empty space. There were exhibits of corporate signs. I suspect the sculpture award that night went to the exhibit of two well lighted vacuum cleaners. Each one held a place of honor beneath the Plexiglas and lights. One elevator was horizontal and the other was rising. If the artist had not sold this he would have been able to turn to Best Buy or even Staples for a smaller profit.

The collection was complete with a good showing: Roy Lichtenstein images…the weeping woman, cartoon images, the kiss. We got lost in a maze made of two large bowls and I kept thinking we were trapped inside a high school auditorium. I did not find art. Much of the sculpture reminded me of props I had seen on the back lot when I worked for a theme park. Yet, somehow all throughout the evening, I felt like someone had not screwed the tugs tight and they should check the BCAM for lost bolts. Also, LACMA BCAM reminds me of a traveling circus…

I left stunned. It reminded me of all the marketing ideas I had missed. I should have brought out my ideas in an art gallery. For example, when big bath tubs (hot tubs) came out…I always wanted to make faux sets of oversized silverware for these “community tubs”. or make sytrofoam potatoes so the group would look like they were sitting in stew.

So, in this winter of 2008, I am writing to you from the land where art imitates life. Or something.

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